The Mind of Evil

Written by:
Don Houghton
Directed by: Timothy Combe
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1971
Video Availability: Try

The Mind of Evil is a story that receives a mixed reception from fans, many lukewarm towards it because they claim it's contrived. The idea that a Pertwee story should be criticised for being contrived is laughable, and personally I think this is one of his best.

The fact that it only exists in black and white only adds to the grittier atmosphere, the final time a Pertwee story would opt for realism. Jon's on good form again too - just look at how he ad-libs an "oh, sorry" to a man who he hits with his cape, remaining perfectly in character. And "for the benefit of the less-sophisticated members of my audience, I will explain in very simple terms" is an astoundingly witty way to deliver the exposition.

The direction is a cut above average, the performances are strong, and, as the first story I've watched since the crushingly slow and shallow Seeds of Death, then it's surprisingly pacy and sophisticated. It's galling to me to admit that Pertwee's first six stories were a step up in quality from the end of The Mighty Trout's reign, but a step up they were. Some say this one was inspired by A Clockwork Orange, and a plot where men can die from their fears is the sort of concept The X-Files would kill for. (In fact they did just that in the second season, didn't they?)

Only sore point is the peace conference - not the concept, which is amazingly topical, but just the way it's introduced in its "Doctor, you know I mentioned it was the first World Peace Day…" kind of way. A downturn is taken when we join UNIT, Captain Yates mincing and pursing his lips while all the time trying to convince us he's hetero with "she's quite a dolly!" Meanwhile, the daft bint out of Mind Your Language ("Chairman Mao!") burns some top secret papers in full view of the UNIT building she's just left. And, sadly, Jon has to end the episode with an embarrassing gurn. Oh well…
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There's a nice reference to Inferno at the start of this one, though of course the story has the same writer. Again, while a strong story (and, script-wise, this is probably stronger than that seven-parter), Don Houghton unwittingly engineered the denigration of the Doctor's character. Again the Venusian Karate comes out of the closet, silly old Yates getting another pressure point attack. And, with this being such an innocent family show, Jo is left alone at a male prison with no threat even implied.

Roger Delgado makes his return appearance in this episode, and even though he can't get that boiler coat off in time, he still manages to make it look cool and not a mistake. (See also: his slips on water in the following episode). In support of Paul Cornell's "Old Boy's Club" take on Terror of the Autons, he's seen puffing on a cigar here.

"We're moving the Thunderbolt" "The what?" Moments like that are contrived, though the script wittily casts the Brigadier as a minor bigot - something fans would perhaps be uncomfortable with. Why a guard should have a handgun in a wooden box and leave it on a prisoner's bed escapes me - did I miss something? - though discussion on the nature of evil in this one is most welcome.
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Not much to say about this one, which continues with more of the same solid stuff. The plot is admittedly becoming convoluted and illogical (How long was the Master planning all this anyway?) but surely doesn't get in the way of the fun. There's a feeling that in colour some of the CSO present would have been dire, and in another of 70s Who's nods to racial inequality, there's a black chauffeur hired by the Master. But a solid episode nonetheless.

"Right, Doctor" says Delgado after instigating a full prison riot, "now I'm ready for you." Cool or what? Though if the painfully acted cliffhanger is to be taken notice of, then apparently the Doctor cacks himself at the thought of the Zarbi.
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The Doctor is bedridden and tended to by Jo for most of this one, not for the last time in the series, or, indeed, the season. However, there's a greater depth to his relationship with the Master here, and a neat shot where their ill faces are combined, almost the symbiosis hinted at in The TV Movie. It's also interesting to see The Master's genuine concern for the Doctor's life, and acknowledge him as his greatest fear. It's things like that that manage to get over the fact that the character has no real motivation whatsoever. On a similar note, the Doctor saying that he escapes the Keller machine by having a pure mind goes someway towards making him the bore who "never tells lies" and moralises. Not yet, but he's on his way.

It's a fun rarity to see a Who story with a considerable budget. In fact, this one infamously went over, with huge convoys and nerve missiles making up its content. There's also some stunt motorbike action with Yates, which means I can get to make the pathetic "Mind of Evil Knievil" pun that I've been waiting three episodes for.
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A bit of a coasting episode this one, though I never really notice it when I'm not watching it in this movie format. Jon first mentions "three dimensional chess" here, the first real reference to Star Trek in his era, while "you're probably wondering why you're still alive" is practically the Master's catchphrase.

The UNIT march on Stangmoor is padding, sure, but it's very well directed and doesn't feel as artificial as later efforts. There's also some pleasant and unusual music from Dudley Simpson, one of his best and most overlooked scores. An unpleasant scene though sees Jo picking up food to eat off the floor. Cor blimey, where were you dragged up, love?
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Virtually every scene between the Brigadier and the Doctor, or the Brig and Benton is played with a wink by Nicholas Courtney. Again, not bad in itself here, but you can see how it would soon go too far and get too silly. The same goes for Michael Sheard who plays one of his many roles straight, but would get sillier and sillier until he was pure camp in Remembrance of the Daleks.

It ends with an explosion, but Timothy Combe's direction makes it all so impressive somehow. The Doctor's resentment at being exiled is also nicely played upon, even if it is turned into a joke at the end.
* * * * ˝

A strong, solid story that mixes Bond-style ambition with bold production values and some intelligent commentary.
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